Ten with Townsend: Toronto debrief

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A chaotic and crazy pair of Verizon IndyCar Series races in Toronto – both on Sunday – makes for interesting analysis as always from our NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who offers the latest edition of “Ten with Townsend” on MotorSportsTalk (archive).

Since Toronto, Bell raced in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (finished fourth in his GT Daytona class AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) and called the Red Bull Global Rallycross event at Charlotte. As always, we thank him for his time and insights:

-First of all, how challenging is it to fill air time during a rain delay when you don’t know how long it will be and whether or not the race will get going?

It gets a little tough when we head down the road of discussing the caloric value of beer!

-How bad do you think the conditions were Saturday?

It’s easy for all of us armchair quarterbacks to say, but I would have liked to see them attempt.

-Was it kind of a case of damned if they did, damned if they didn’t for racing then?

Possibly. Outside of that, I think a little civil engineering on Shoreline should be a priority before next year. Some minimum circuit standards should be a requirement at every venue we visit. That should start months before the event. Don’t get me started on catch fencing.

-On-track, was it refreshing to see your Indy teammate Sebastien Bourdais (at KV Racing Technology) get back into victory lane?

He drove a perfect race. Always nice to see any of the smaller teams win.

-Thoughts on Mike Conway’s second win?

He got there on strategy but when the green dropped he showed why ECR hired him. He flat drove away from the field. If they can sort out their qualifying issues, then there’s no reason why we can’t see more of that at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma.

-Are you liking what you saw out of Tony Kanaan this weekend given he hasn’t had such a good weekend on street courses in a long time?

He seems very strong, and the more I wonder what Dario Franchitti does on a race weekend, the more I realize how valuable he is as a coach to TK. I’m sure (Scott) Dixon is peering over their shoulders regularly now.

-Even though Helio Castroneves and Will Power have 69 points on the rest of the field, we can’t rule out Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud right?

No, clearly anything can happen like we saw at Toronto. I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store for us at Mid-Ohio.

-How do you think Helio and Will will hold up mentally? They’ve both been in this situation before of being in title contention late, but unable to close it out.

I think they’re both strong now. They’re battle tested in previous seasons and focused on learning from so many lessons. Nobody has more experience now battling down the stretch than those two. But cracks have been known to form… could this be the year where all goes right down the stretch for Penske? It has that feeling….

-Who really needs to prove themselves in these final four races as we head towards the end of the season?

Right now Sato, Rahal, Briscoe, Andretti, all seem to come to mind.

-More fun – riding shotgun with PT on the streets of Toronto? Or watching Toronto Mayor Rob Ford ride shotgun with PT?

I think we should have had PT room with Mayor Ford for the weekend. They seemed like fast friends and I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall with the rest of the viewers. Who knows what could’ve happened.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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